All of Algonquin

Trip Reports, Campsite Reviews & More

Trip Reports, Campsites & More

The Thunderbox

Volume 2: Issue 2 - March 2023

Welcome to the March 2023 issue of The Thunderbox (a few days late this month, but that’s February’s fault. 28 days just isn’t enough time to adequately fill up this Thunderbox (eww)). The Thunderbox is a monthly roundup of anything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. This month’s issue includes a spotlight on a lake that maybe shouldn’t be its own lake, paddles I’ve loved and lost, campsite reviews and more.

A quick note for anyone receiving this through an email subscription. First of all, thank you for subscribing! Secondly, this post looks better when viewed through the website. This link will take you there (and, unlike last month, this time the link will actually take you there, not to an error page. Sorry about that): The Thunderbox: March 2023

Hi there! Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy and feel free to subscribe if you do! You’ll get this roundup plus each trip report as it’s published. There’s no time like the present! Just add your email in the box below.

What's Going On?

February is a planning month. I spend the month looking at the map and planning trips that get longer and more implausible with each successive snowfall. Invariably, by the time the end of the month rolls around, I’ve got myself talked into a 10 day loop that makes The Meanest Link look like The Sunbeam Circuit.

Trips planned in February never happen.

Fortunately, it’s now March, which is when I realize that we’re only two months away from paddling season (maybe less!) and maybe it’s time to take a realistic look at what I can accomplish for the year. So far, I’ve got my annual spring and Labour Day trips sorted, and I’m planning to get out with my kids (maybe even do the aforementioned Sunbeam Circuit) at least a couple of times. Other than that, I’d like to sneak one more solo trip in and finally get up to Shippagew Lake at some point.

But all of that is in the future. For now, let’s talk about Bartlett Lake.

Spotlight Lake: Bartlett Lake

So, is Bartlett Lake even a lake? Or is it the George Stark to Tom Thomson Lake’s Thad Beaumont, tacked on its eastern shore like a semi-absorbed twin?

(Editor’s Note: Uh. That’s a really weird and obscure way to start this thing. Try again.)


Bartlett Lake is a small lake just east of Tom Thomson. It connects to Tom Thomson by way of a very short narrows and, to be honest, I’m not sure why it gets to call itself its own lake when a spot like Whiskey Jack off of Canoe Lake is about the same size but doesn’t get to slap the word “Lake” onto the end of its name. Regardless, Bartlett Lake is an official Lake and it’s this month’s spotlight lake.

The northeast end of Bartlett

Canoe Lake (access #5) is the closest access point to Bartlett. You get to Bartlett by travelling north through Canoe, Joe, Tepee, Little Doe and Tom Thomson lakes. Despite the fact that you’re traversing five lakes, there’s only one portage along this route, the P300 between Canoe Lake and Joe Lake known as the Joe Lake portage. Once you’re over that portage (and are finished with the flashbacks to sitting in traffic on the 400 that this portage can induce during the busy season) there’s nothing but water (and one persistent beaver dam) between you and Bartlett.

Once you arrive on Bartlett you’ll find a smaller sized lake, particularly in comparison to the ones you’ve paddled through to get there. Bartlett only has four campsites spread around its shores, three of which are useable, one of which is a post-apocalyptic hellscape that even the survivors in the Last of Us would look at and go “man, that looks rough”. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. But it’s not great).

The apocalypse site from the water

Campsite number one, the aforementioned post-apocalyptic hellscape, is immediately on your right (south shore) as you exit the narrows. It’s fronted by a very shallow, reed filled stretch of water and did not look like it had seen any use in quite some time the last time I was through. It’s a small site, completely overgrown, with room for a tent or two if you squint, and a fire pit area that seems like it would be a great spot to start a grass fire. I would imagine the bugs here are horrendous during bug season, and they probably hang on a lot longer in the tall grass and shallow muck than they would on other sites.  Don’t stay here unless you have to.

Campsites two and four are better, if unspectacular options. Campsite two is a just a bit further along the south shore, and campsite four is on the other side of the lake and closer to the portage up to FML Pond. Both of these sites are up from the water. Site two is about 10 feet above water level and site four is maybe half again as much. They both have room for a few tents, decent fire pit set ups and mostly obstructed views out to the water. Each of them would be fine for a night, but neither are going to make your top ten campsites of all time list, unless that list is only nine campsites long to begin with.

Paddling along Bartlett
View from Campsite 2

The best looking site on Bartlett, site three, is taken every time I go through that way. I’m guessing there’s a reason for that. From the water, it looks like a nice enough spot. It’s on a small point and would have a nice view of most of Bartlett. There have always been a couple of canoes pulled up on it when I go by, which suggests there’s room for a few people (and their gear) at least. If I was going to stay on Bartlett, I’d target that site. 

Looking north on Bartlett

Once you’re on Bartlett, the lake itself doesn’t offer much to do. It only takes about 10 minutes to paddle around the entire thing, and the shoreline scenery is pretty uniform. What Bartlett would be good for would be as a base camp to explore the area, particularly on a busy weekend. If Tom Thomson and Little Doe are already full, there’s at least a chance you’ll be able to get some semi-privacy on Bartlett. And from Bartlett you can day trip to quite a few nearby locations. Tom Thomson and Little Doe are easy, portage-less paddles nearby and both offer lots of nooks and crannies to explore. If you feel like more of a challenge, you can head up to Sunbeam Lake, three portages and four (small) bodies of water to the north. If you do go that way, watch out for the first pond north of Bartlett. It’s only about 100 meters across, but depending on the time of year those hundred meters can give you a lifetime of muck and bugs. There’s a reason someone has updated the Park’s portage sign with a Sharpie so that the name of the pond now reads “FML Pond” instead of “Pond”.

So, after all this, what’s the final verdict on Bartlett? It’s fine.  A resounding fine. It’s smaller and feels more secluded than some of its neighbours, and it would be a decent overflow option if you aren’t able to get a site on Tom Thomson or Little Doe. There are enough workable campsites that you won’t be uncomfortable, but no sites that are going to leave you wishing you could call dibs on them forever. In a perfect world, Bartlett would be the lake I explore from my basecamp on Tom Thomson, or the one I paddle through on my way up to Sunbeam. But in this imperfect world, I’d be fine with spending a night or two here if it was the best way for me to get a weekend in the Park.


Site 4 Fire Pit Area
Site 2 Fire Pit Area

Paddling a Canoe, that's a paddlin'

I don’t think there’s any piece of gear that’s as personal as a paddle. You can like your water filter, you can be happy with how your tent holds up in a rain storm, but it seems like a lot of people just flat out love their paddle. And why not? Without your paddle you’re not going anywhere (well, you’re not going anywhere quickly). Your paddle is your ticket from A to B and everywhere in between. It is literally the reason you get to see and do all the cool things there are to do in Algonquin (and everywhere else with a canoe route). You pick up a paddle and it feels like freedom. That’s a pretty cool feeling. You don’t get that from a tarp.

And just like with other things we love, most people think their paddle is the best. I guess that makes sense too. If you don’t think your most important piece of canoe tripping gear is the best option you can get, shouldn’t you be looking for an upgrade ASAP? Take a step back and it becomes clear that there isn’t really a “best” paddle. They come in all different shapes and sizes, with different uses and for all different styles of paddling/tripping. Maybe you prefer the all purpose beavertail style or the ottertail with a longer, narrower blade for more control from the stern. Maybe you want to channel the voyageurs with their tapered, squared off blade or you want a big old breadboard to move as much water as possible.   It’s not so much a question of the “best” paddle, but the best paddle for you.

That said, my paddle is the best.

A picture of a man, a paddle and a canoe in front of Rain Lake
Eyes closed, ready to go!

For the past 20 years, I’ve been rotating between a Ray Kettlewell Special and a pair of his Modified Specials. Ray Kettlewell is a Canadian paddlemaker who is probably very familiar to anyone who attended a camp in Ontario during the late 90s and early 2000s. It seems like every camp with a tripping program either had a deal with Kettlewell to supply paddles, or at the very least had a paddle order or two go through each summer. And why not? Ray’s design is perfect for tripping. With a long, narrow blade, well proportioned shaft and durable construction, these paddles were awesome for long days on the water. My Raykay Special spent five weeks in Quetico Park with me back in 2004, and seemingly came out stronger despite everything I put it through. Over the next 15 years those paddles went with me on every canoe trip, crossing big water, small water, navigating rivers and creeks and even running a few rapids (I wouldn’t recommend that last one with these paddles, but there’s a lot I wouldn’t recommend that I’ve done at one point or another).

Paddles shouldn’t look like this.

My Raykay era came to an abrupt end over the Labour Day weekend in 2020. That’s when one of my modified specials snapped at the shoulders mid-trip, leaving me with a valuable lesson in packing preparedness (always bring a spare paddle) and forcing me to take a hard look at my remaining Kettlewell paddles. When I did, I realized that it was time to think about retirement, not just for the broken paddle, but the ones that were still (for now) in one piece. The thing is, 15 years puts a lot of wear and tear on a paddle (and on the paddler, but that’s a different story). Both of my remaining paddles were showing the same signs of thinning out along the shaft where I’d been jamming the pry of my J-Stroke. It seemed like it would be a question more of when, not if, the other two would call it quits.

So, I needed a new paddle.

But Ray Kettlewell wasn’t an option anymore. He’d retired a few years back, and although another company had taken up his design, I decided to explore my options.

I’m glad I did.

It didn’t take long before I got pointed in the direction of Badger Paddles. They are a Muskoka based company that’s been around since 2009. I’d heard pretty good reviews of their paddles, and I’m happy to report that the reality lived up to the hype. The first time I picked up one of their paddles (what they call a Tripper, their version of an Ottertail design) it felt like it did whenever I picked up a Raykay. While the design of the Kettlewell and Badger paddles are different, they both feel right as soon as you’ve got them in your hands. They feel like they belong in the water. Cut from a single piece of wood and finished by hand, the Badger paddle was lighter than my Raykay, but seemingly just as sturdy. Badger has a neat design feature they call a “transitional ridge” between the blade and the shaft that is meant to keep the paddle both strong and flexible. I have no idea if that’s true, or if it’s just really good marketing, but I do know that the paddle pulls water, steers well and is nice and light. It’s amazing how much difference a few ounces of weight makes when you’re on your fifth hour of paddling for the day with a couple more in front of you. 

I always like to balance out my gear gushings with some “constructive criticism” but, honestly, I haven’t found an issue with this paddle yet. Of course, that doesn’t mean something won’t pop up. One of my favourite features of my Raykay was that I could treat it pretty roughly and it held up for what felt like forever. I don’t get the sense from my Tripper that it will stand up to the same level of care (or lack of care, more accurately). Despite what I said about its apparent durability a minute ago, it does feel more delicate than the Raykay ever did. I think that’s a function of the transitional ridge design, which makes the shaft seem narrower as it meets the blade and maybe more fragile as a result. But, honestly, that’s just me looking for things to worry about. Last summer was my first with my new paddle, and it held up well. It’s got a long way to go to live up to the legacy of my Raykays, but it’s definitely off to a good start.

New Campsite Reports

I added 4 new campsite reports in February. My original plan was to clear the backlog (I’ve still got another five or so waiting to be written), but I ended up spending most of my writing time on another Algonquin project (that you can read about in the links section).  Of the four sites this month, Dickson site 7 would be my favourite, but Opeongo South Arm site 65 was pretty decent as well. Dickson site 1 is the end of the Bonfield Dickson portage and wants you to know it. The one and only campsite on the Crow River is fine, but then you’d be camping on the Crow River, and there are much better sites at either end on either Crow Bay or Big Crow.

Recent Trip Reports (or not so recent as the case may be)

It’s March. People not doing canoe trips in March include me. People not doing any kind of camping whatsoever include me. With all the respect in the world for people who walk 5 KM into the bush just so they can freeze in the same way I would by standing on my front lawn, winter camping is not a thing I will be doing anytime soon. You know what that means? It’s archive time! This month I’m highlighting my two part report from ice out, 2017. This was a trip to McKaskill Lake right after ice out. That spring saw a late thaw, significant flooding and weather that would need to be significantly upgraded to be called miserable. Perfect camping weather! This trip included snow, a ranger cabin and the longest portage I’ve done in the Park. Enjoy!


  • Tripping In Algonquin Presentation – The Ottawa RA Centre Canoe Club asked me to give a presentation on some of my trips in the Park in February. This was a Zoom session and the recording is up on Youtube. If you’re jonesing for two hours of me talking about canoe trips, have I got a treat for you. Covers all the greatest hits, including the time my paddle snapped on McIntosh Creek and I didn’t have a spare, the time I tried to feed every bug in the Park simultaneously and the time I came in second place in a race against a thunderstorm. 
  • Algonquin & Beyond – 7 Days Solo in North Algonquin – Cody over at Algonquin & Beyond has posted a video of a 7 day solo he did last year out of the Kiosk access point. Cody’s videos are always fun to watch. He’s got a great eye for detail and the shots are well put together. He also fills them with plenty of useful information for your own trip planning purposes. Check it out!
Forecast: Algonquin

Share this:

Like this:

Like Loading...
%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close